On Wednesday and Thursday, we will be breaking down all eight of the Sweet 16 matchups. Here is our look at No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State:
WHEN: Thursday, 10:17 p.m.
WHERE: Honda Center, Anaheim (West Region)
MAJOR STORY LINES: There’s a lot going on here beyond the actual game itself. These are arguably the two best programs out west, although UCLA’s resurgence under Steve Alford, particularly on the recruiting trail, might make one reconsider. Both programs rely on recruiting California, especially the the southern part of the state, to bring in talent. Steve Fisher’s done an unbelievable job building SDSU into a program that is actually relevant, and as good as Sean Miller is as a coach, he won’t be considered among the elite nationally until he leads the Wildcats to at least a Final Four.
KEY STATS: Arizona leads the nation in effective field goal percentage defense and is second nationally in defending two-point field goals. San Diego State ranks in the bottom 25% nationally in effective field goal percentage and is sub-300 nationally in their ability to make two point shots. SDSU shoots 74.4% of their shots from inside the arc and Arizona forces opposing offenses to shoot 73.5% of their shots inside the arc; for comparison’s sake, the national averages is 67.1% while Creighton takes just 55.5% of their shots from two-point range.
In layman’s terms, SDSU wants to get shots in and around the paint, and Arizona is one of, if not the best in the country after defending that.
KEY PLAYERS: Xavier Thames is San Diego State’s offense. He’s not just their go-to guy, he’s not just their facilitator, he’s the focal point of everything they do on the offensive end of the floor. That puts Steve Fisher in a tough spot, as the Wildcats are not only the best defensive team in the country, they might have the nation’s best backcourt defender in Nick Johnson. Slow down Thames, beat SDSU.
POINT SPREAD: Arizona (-7.5)
THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:
1. Arizona in transition: The Wildcats are not great when it comes to executing in the half court, but what they have done in the past month or so is to put more of a priority on getting easy baskets in transition. There is not a trio in the country that is more athletic than Nick Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Aaron Gordon, and the three of them thrive in the open court. When Arizona allowed to run the floor, they are a much more dangerous team.
2. Free throws: The Wildcats are not a good free throw shooting team, and while much of that blame falls on the shoulders of Gordon (42.9%), T.J. McConnell (60.9%) and Hollis-Jefferson (66.7%) struggle from the stripe as well. Given the physicality of both these teams, if this ends up being a close game, free throws could end up making an enormous difference.
3. Dwayne Polee: Polee didn’t even play the first time these two teams matched up back in November, but he’s become an integral part of the SDSU attack since the turn of the calendar in large part due to the fact that he can knock donw a jump shot without being a liability defensive. In the last four games, he’s averaging 15.5 points and shooting 62.5% from three.
CBT PREDICTION: Arizona